The past two weeks have not been kind to the Purdue baseball program. Ohio State swept the Boilers at home two weeks ago, winning a pair of one run games that were shown on the Big Ten Network. Last week, Purdue traveled to Minneapolis to face Minnesota and was swept again. Matt Bischoff was three outs away from his third straight complete game before blowing a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning of game one. Purdue lost 4-3 (again on the Big Ten Network) and scored only three more runs in the remaining two games. The Boilers have now lost six straight in conference play despite bludgeoning their last two non-conference opponents 18-4 (Butler) and 14-6 (Ball State). Simply put, Purdue is not scoring enough runs in conference play.
One reason Purdue has struggled is that the Big Ten is a lot better this year than last year. Last season, only Michigan had a legitimate chance at an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament. This year Ohio State, Illinois, and Minnesota are all in good position, while Indiana is a serious threat to win the Big Ten Tournament.
The Hoosiers will be Purdue's opponent at home this weekend. Indiana was one of the pre-season favorites in the Big Ten, but they struggled mightily in non-conference play. Indiana is just 21-22 overall, but they will be a dangerous team in the postseason because they are 10-4 in the Big Ten after taking two of three against Michigan last weekend. Minnesota and Ohio State are tied for first place at 11-4 in conference play, while Illinois and Indiana are a half game back at 10-4. Michigan State (18-24, 8-7) and Michigan (23-19, 6-9) currently hold the last two Big Ten Tournament spots. Purdue (18-21, 5-9) sits a half game back of Michigan and a half game ahead of Penn State (22-19, 5-10). Purdue needs to make up some ground this weekend and next weekend against Michigan State if it wants to play in the postseason. The Boilers finish the season at home against Illinois and do not play Michigan in conference play this year.
Bischoff has been the story for the Boilers. He's been nothing less than a workhorse on the mound, throwing 26 innings in his last three starts. Unfortunately, the Boilermaker offense has given him diddle-squat in run support. He threw a complete game for a Friday win over Penn State three weeks ago, but lost a 1-0 complete game to Ohio State and 4-3 to Minnesota last week. As mentioned above, he went eight innings against the Gophers and had a 3-1 lead in the ninth, but couldn't finish the deal.
Matt Morgan and Matt Jansen have done well as the Saturday and Sunday starters, but again, they are not getting enough offensive support. On the season Purdue has left an astounding number of runners on base at 369 through 39 games. That's more than nine runners per game, and it is very hard to win ballgames when you can't get the big hit to bring runners home.
Indiana features one of the best hitters in the nation in catcher Josh Phegley. Indiana would be even more potent if football wide receiver Andrew means was still roaming the outfield, but he gave up his baseball eligibility to play professionally in the Reds organization. The Hoosiers have been doing the exact opposite of Purdue of late. They are winning conference games but struggling outside the conference. Both teams have similar overall records, but the Hoosiers have clearly been the better team in the Big Ten. Since neither team will go to the NCAA Tournament without the automatic bid that is a huge difference right now.
It is honestly time for Purdue to step forward and start playing with a little pride. They were one of many conference favorites this year, but they have fallen flat on their asses the last two weeks. Normally this series goes a long way in deciding the Crimson and Gold Cup, but Indiana has already beaten us badly in that series this year. The only way we're making up ground there is if we appeal to have about 45 points moved from the football game to the overall standings. With nine games left in conference play Purdue probably has to win at least five of them to secure a berth in the Big Ten Tournament. With another sweep this weekend they can kiss those hopes goodbye.
UPDATE: Friday's game has now been moved to Saturday as part of a noon doubleheader. I'll be on my way to Chicago, so I might stop by now and take a peak at game one.